Cello, cello, cello, cello...

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 24 06:49:19 CDT 2007

>From The Evansville (Indiana) Courier & Press: 

Evansville cellist amps up style, attitude for rock anthems 
By Roger McBain 
Friday, August 24, 2007 

After years of aspiring to the classical artistry and technique of Jacqueline DuPre, Lynn Harrell and Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist Anna Graber has found a new music hero to emulate — Pete Townshend.

Graber, a Yale University senior from Evansville, has taken both music and stage antics from Townshend, The Who's amp-smashing, chord-slashing guitar god, for her music with Low Strung, a rock cello ensemble of 12 Yale students. 

She plays the lead part in the group's cello version of "Baba O'Riley," a rhapsodic rock anthem many remember as "Teenage Wasteland," on a new Low Strung CD. The disc, simply titled "Low Strung," features cello arrangements of rock favorites originally performed by The Who, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Animals, The Eagles, Aerosmith, Journey, Bon Jovi, Simon and Garfunkel, and Coldplay. 

"Baba O'Riley" is Graber's showpiece. When she plays it live, she even adapts Townshend's trademark windmilling playing style, but with her bow.

"You can do it, kind of, with big down-bows," she explains. "You use the entire bow for a note and you take a big down-bow, lifting the right hand high above the strings for the next note."

The CD, arranged by Yale music major Dave Rector and recorded by the students on their own equipment, has been a hit at Yale, where Low Strung enjoys an enthusiastic base of loyal fans. It's also been selling across the country and overseas, based on word-of-mouth reviews and recommendations from students and on the Internet.

Graber isn't sure how many copies of the CD have sold, but she's personally sold or given away 70 copies. And her father, Tom Graber, recently ordered 70 more, hawking them to co-workers and friends.

She's gotten CDs to her high school and Philharmonic Youth Orchestra conductors, as well as Alfred Savia, music director for the Evansville Philharmonic. She sold one copy to her congressman, Rep. Brad Ellsworth, when she met him on a flight to Evansville.

"I think (Low Strung) just appeals to a very large audience," she said.

"My college friends love it and my parents' friends absolutely adore this. They're almost more excited about it than my college friends. I think it's just classic rock hits that everyone loves."

Performing rock music on the cello has been revelation for Graber, who began playing at age 10 in Texas, when her parents told her she needed to learn an orchestral instrument. "I just picked the cello, and from my first day in class I was hooked."

After her family moved to Evansville, Graber played in Memorial High School's orchestra and won first chair cello with the Evansville Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, with whom she played a movement from a concerto her senior year.

At Yale she wound up majoring in Russian history, but she continued playing cello with one the university's college orchestras. A dozen cellists in the college orchestra created Low Strung in her freshman year, initially taking their inspiration and their music from Apocalyptica, a Finnish group that gained international attention playing Metallica's heavy metal hits on four cellos.

Using Rector's arrangements, the group expanded its repertoire to embrace all the music featured on the CD. Rector's arrangements embrace the rock styling, but with nods to the classical repertoire as well, noted Graber.

Low Strung's version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" opens with strains of "Waltz of the Flowers" from Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," and the group's version of The Eagles' "Hotel California" begins with the opening melody from Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, which has the same chord progressions.

The members of Low Strung have amped up their rock stage theatrics, too, with lights, fog machines and Townshend's windmilling.

They've joked about smashing instruments or even setting them on fire, a la Townshend or Jimi Hendrix, and they've even looked for cheap cellos on eBay, said Graber, "but we thought the Yale administration would just lose it if we set a cello on fire, so we decided against it."

Most of the rock music is new to Graber, who was born years after The Who, The Animals and Led Zeppelin were Top 40 favorites. "I absolutely love them now," she said. "I love classic rock thanks to Low Strung."

She still loves classical music, of course, particularly chamber music. She recently returned from a summer fellowship in Russia, where she researched the Russian Revolution of 1917. While in St. Petersburg she rented a cello to practice for an all-Russian sonata recital she plans to play at Yale in the spring.

After a summer away Graber's also looking forward to rocking with Low Strung, back at Yale, she said. 
She's not sure what they'll tackle this year, but she's heard some talk of playing Pink Floyd music to a screening of "The Wizard of Oz."

-Brian in Atlanta 
The Who This Month! 

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